Resistance (II): A Cultural and More Emotive Perspective

A change in rationalist modeling of how resistance functions was preceded by those espousing a more cultural and emotive perspective at least a decade earlier. The first cultural analysis to emerge on the framing of resistance movements was not incompatible with notions of opportunities. This stressed the effort that goes into symbols creation, establishment of solidarity, and portrayal of grievances. Framing, including identity shaping, is an important process that determines who joins a movement based on whether issues resonate with potential recruits, the media, outside leaders, and the public at large. Acknowledging that framing was a central dynamic in understanding social movements, Benford and Snow focused on how collective action frames have been conceptualized, framing dynamics and processes, contextual factors that constrain and facilitate framing, as well as framing outcomes (Benford and Snow 2000). They later agreed with Oliver and Johnston that frames and ideology are definitionally and analytically distinct entities that merit studying in their own right, and that the relationship between frames and ideology needs to be elaborated further. Snow argued for the study of identity frames as both dependent and independent variables, as well as stressed the dearth of scholarship on frame transformation and diffusion of identities (Snow in Snow, Soule, & Kriesi 2004, 391).

Framing and identity activation are culturally contingent, and culture is now widely accepted as being key to understanding social movements. For one, identities may be taken for granted, but in other instances activists must convince recruits of their cultural identity to get them to join, or those identities may be culturally constructed during the movement (Goodwin & Jasper 2003, 103). James Jasper has been prolific in linking culture and emotion. He writes about “the satisfactions of protest that derive from highly emotional, often ritualistic, collective activities.  These are some of the most striking achievements of a movement, a vibrant culture that gives participants a strong sense of movement identity, and internal movement practices that yield immense solidarity.” Protestors can care about reinforcing their subculture and networks as much as about their publicly stated, instrumental goals (Jasper 1997, 209). This identity activation and formation is both a cultural and emotional experience for many mobilizers.

It is so strong in fact, that such emotions can even overcome challenges to resource mobilization and can be much stronger impetuses than traditional political opportunities for getting a movement started (Jasper 1997, 292). Emotions also answer the question of why individuals continue in a social movement when it becomes clear they could quit and become a free-rider (Goodwin & Jasper 2004).

Interestingly, Francesa Polletta has argued that even structures are in part cultural. Past literature has tended to see culture as subjective, malleable, and enabling of protest, as being mobilized by the powerless to challenge structure. All of these have been described as being opposite of the political structure model, but should not be. Culture shapes our perception of reality and therefore our behavior, which in turn shapes social movements. Aspects of culture such as collective memory, perception of state repressive capacity and legitimacy, and personal identity give form to collective action. Culture helps activists to discern possible strategies for mobilization, e.g. what strategies would be socially acceptable or not (Polletta in Goodwin & Jasper 2004, 97-109).

A James Jasper talk:


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